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Prince Street

Latest cop series entry, this one directed at a surefire clip by Roger Spottiswoode, centers on a onetime actual undercover unit of New York's finest, whose secret headquarters lie behind a Soho print shop on Prince Street. Never in uniforms, they carry no IDs or badges, wear disguises, and, on duty, they're deadly serious. They have every right to be --- thanks to the pilot's artifice and contrived plot lines. "Prince Street's" familiar cases --- after all, there are just so many crimes in the Big City --- hark back to other ideas. But Spottiswoode's put considerable ginger into the stories, and the Prince Street gang (Dana Eskelson's slated to join them as detective Dianne Hoffman) may be able to pull off enough interest to generate an audience in the familiar territory. As it stands, the production looks terrif no matter what the contents.

With:
Cast: Mariska Hargitay, Vincent Spano, Steven Martini, Lawrence Monoson, Joe Morton, Christine Tucci, Victor Argo, Aaron Bata, Leonid Citer, Steve Ryan, Ken Garito, Tamara Tunie, Mark Margolis, Jose Zuniga, Bill Camp, Tom Spackman, Doris Belack, Michael Cullen, Bruce Kirkpatrick, John Tormey, Lynne Deregon, Elisa Moolecherry, John Boylan, Jacqualine Amato.

Under the leadership of a less-than-authoritative Lt. Tom Warner (Joe Morton), the Prince Street gang hits its appointed targets. Experienced detective Alex Gage (Vincent Spano) toils with young cop Billy (Ken Garito) on a Russian gambol in a flower market.

Gage endures a terrible sadness when his friend’s assassinated. Creator-writers Robert Nathan and Michael Harbert, the actors and director Spottiswoode pull off a small but successful scene between Gage and Billy’s dad (Steve Ryan); it’s a touching vignette.

Single-mom detective Nina Echeverria (Mariska Hargitay) finds herself investigating a Mr. Sullivan (Tom Spackman) and a Peruvian gang — she changes lipstick and hairstyle as a disguise. Hargitay presents the character in such style it’s tough to see how they can do anything but honor her. Instead, she finds herself kidnapped.

Peppy detective James Tasio (Lawrence Monoson), whose wife’s gone into labor, listens doubtfully to Nina’s inappropriate and incorrect history of circumcision, but he’s otherwise on Nina’s side throughout. Latest addition to the bunch is rookie Anthony Libretti (Steven Martini), who’s intrigued by the rest of the squad’s hyper activities. A full office staff complements the team, but so far they’re ciphers.

Hargitay steals the first hour with her gutsy, purposeful Latino act, while Spano impressively projects Weltschmerz and an occasional comfortable smile, building a thoughtful characterization that could be a major draw.

The program’s speed and extensive cast of characters often blur in the fast-paced action devised by writers Nathan and Harbert. They write OK dialogue, but situation and sentiments too often ring phony. Most of the team’s action takes place at night, so there’s at least a suggestion of novelty.

Production designer Chris Nowak’s chief contribution, besides choice locales, is credibly matching Toronto footage to its N.Y. counterpart. Robert Elswit’s lensing is pro, and editing by Michael Kewley and Ray Daniels III sure establishes appropriate timing. Jan Hammer’s score, delicate but firm, fits the various occasions.

Will “Prince Street,” temporarily sitting in “ER’s” slot, take off on its own? Seems unlikely, though director Spottiswoode cunningly tries to kick life into whiskery material. The real-life team started up in 1971 and secretly plied its trade for 20 years; “Prince Street’s” way outmatched.

Prince Street

NBC, Thurs. March 6, 10 p.m.

Production: Filmed in New York and Toronto by Writer's Workbench Films and Warner Bros. TV. Executive producer, Robert Nathan; co-executive producer, Eric Overmyer; supervising producer, Michael Harbert; producer, Brooke Kennedy; director, Roger Spottiswoode; writers/co-creators, Nathan, Harbert; camera, Robert Elswit.

Crew: Editors, Michael Kewley, Ray Daniels III; production designer, Chris Nowak; sound, David Lee; music, Jan Hammer; casting, Barbara Miller, Alice Cassidy (L.A.), Suzanne Ryan (N.Y.). 60 MIN.

Cast: Cast: Mariska Hargitay, Vincent Spano, Steven Martini, Lawrence Monoson, Joe Morton, Christine Tucci, Victor Argo, Aaron Bata, Leonid Citer, Steve Ryan, Ken Garito, Tamara Tunie, Mark Margolis, Jose Zuniga, Bill Camp, Tom Spackman, Doris Belack, Michael Cullen, Bruce Kirkpatrick, John Tormey, Lynne Deregon, Elisa Moolecherry, John Boylan, Jacqualine Amato.

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